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Depression makes you talk a different language. Here's how to spot it

Aeshwarya Singh Mundel | Updated on: 23 March 2018, 14:44 IST

It's not unusual for people to experience 'the blues' or feel 'under the weather' occasionally. But if it becomes a regular, a constant affair even, it can start showing in the way you express yourself as well. Depression changes just about everything: from the way you move to your sleeping patterns to how you interact with people to the way you talk and write even.

In an attempt to pin down the exact relationship between depression and expression of language, scientists have unveiled a category of words that can help to accurately predict if the person is depressed or not.

If you've read Sylvia Plath's poems or heard Kurt Cobain's music (how can you not have?), you'd know the impact of depression in one's style of expression. It's a known fact, both suffers of depression had killed themselves. Same was the case with Amy Winehouse and Chester Bennington.

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Computerized text analysis methods take a large amount of data entries into account to help spot linguistic features calculating the percentage prevalence of words and classes of words, lexical diversity, average sentence length, grammatical patterns and many other metrics.

Personal essays, diary entries, work of well-known artists and snippets of natural language of people suffering from depression have provided insight. The findings from such research reveal clear and consistent differences in language between those with and without symptoms of depression.

Expression of language has two components: content and style. The content relates to what we express – that is, the meaning or subject matter of statements. It was found that those suffering from depression used an excessive amount of words conveying negative emotions, adjectives and adverbs like – sad, lonely and miserable. What's more interesting is that they were found to be using significantly more first person singular pronouns, such as me, myself and I, and fewer second and third person pronouns like they, them, he/she.

This pattern suggested that depressed persons are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. It was also found that dwelling on personal problems and social isolations are common features of depression.

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On the other hand, The style of language relates to how we express ourselves, rather than the content we express. Absolutist words – which convey absolute magnitudes or probabilities, such as always, nothing or completely – were found to be better markers for mental health forums than either pronouns or negative emotion words.

Understanding the language of depression can help us understand the way those with symptoms of depression think. Work is also in progress to accurately identify increasingly specific subcategories of mental health problems – such as perfectionism, self-esteem problems, and social anxiety. That said, it is possible to use a language associated with depression without actually being depressed. Ultimately, it is how you feel over time that determines whether you are suffering.

As tools more being made available to spot the condition is certainly important to improve health and prevent tragic incidents of self-harm and suicide. As of 2018, the World Health Organisation estimates that there more than 300m people worldwide living with depression.

First published: 23 March 2018, 14:41 IST
Aeshwarya Singh Mundel

#Mustang with a knack for traveling & writing~